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‘On The Road To Terabit Ethernet’


June 16, 2017  


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By Paul Barker

Last year, a consortium that included Nokia Bell Labs, Deutsche Telecom T-Labs and the Technical University of Munich achieved what can only be called a major milestone – successfully achieving speeds of one TB per second in an optical communications field trial.

“It was 50 years ago when optical fiber was introduced,” the three organizations stated in a release. “With the promise of 5G wireless technology on the horizon, optical transport systems today continue to evolve to help telecommunications operators and enterprises meet network data traffic growing at a cumulative annual rate of 100%.”
Such advances are the result of what Jim Young, director of Commscope’s data centre practice, described at a BICSI conference in Tampa earlier this year as the “bandwidth explosion.” Global bandwidth trends, he said, reveal that in 2019 compared to five years earlier there will be 10 times more mobile data, four times more IP video data, three times more cloud data, three times more Internet traffic and double the broadband.

This, he told a luncheon audience, will not end, and one of the key areas in which there will be a continued thirst for faster transmissions is the cloud-enabled enterprise data centre.
As proof of that, he referenced a recent survey from 451 Research that indicated that by mid-2018, upwards of 60% of all enterprise workloads will be running in some type of public or private cloud.

The title of the presentation was On The Road To Terabit Ethernet – Are You Ready? and according to Young and others, the level of change coming will be unprecedented. An example of that is a blog written by David Tanis, CommScope’s director of strategic enterprise marketing, in which he admits it has “been challenging to keep up with the latest standards development for data centre applications.

“There was a time when Ethernet standards were very predictable,” wrote Tanis. “You could nearly set your calendar to every five years or so when a new application speed would come out that was 10 times faster than the previous one. Today, there are no less than six new application speeds in development, which is amazing considering only six application speeds have been developed to date in the 30+ years that the IEEE 802.3 standards have been published.”

Clearly that is no longer the case. The 2015 Ethernet Roadmap from the Ethernet Alliance states that with “adoption fervent on a number of diverse fronts including automotive networks, power, industrial control, next-generation and residential access and server connectivity in hyperscale data centres – Ethernet is embracing the fact that there are now considerable and substantial markets that are growing in their own ways and paces that simply cannot be ignored.

“The result is that the proven technology is amid a period of multi-faceted innovation without betraying any of the core characteristics that have driven Ethernet’s emergence over the last four decades.

“It is a different mindset of innovation. The Ethernet community is no longer locked into the notion of introducing new speeds in factors of 10. Rather, the case of Ethernet users has become so varied that no longer can such a diverse Ethernet Ecosystem be expected to leap to any single, next given speed.”

Meanwhile in an interview with Connections+ at the BICSI Winter Conference, Ken Hall, a data centre solutions architect at CommScope who specializes in high-speed migration, was asked just how ready cabling installers are when it comes to TbE.

“Realistically, most of what the installers today here would be working on would be typically be in that 10-40-and 100 GbE range. Predominantly it is 10 GbE for most applications. There are many who are more or less reacting to ongoing adds, moves, changes that type of thing.

“With regard to new construction it depends if they are involved in some major contracts. Those who are having some visibility to applications beyond 10 GbE are starting to react to it, but in most cases are not knowledgeable on what’s driving that. They are not looking at 25 Gig and the next steps that are going on here.

“There are going to be changes in terms of the media types, applications distances. They are somewhat challenged in terms of what is happening with the Ethernet roadmap. What is happening with the Ethernet Alliance, what is happening with the SWDM Alliance and how that impacts decisions made on electronics — the next steps and trends.”

Hall added that the alliance, a group of companies who advocate the use of shortwave wavelength division multiplexing for data centre interconnections over duplex multimode fiber, is looking at how to get more out of an individual fiber.

“Those types of things are helping us make fiber more efficient, making the applications more efficient, but contractors typically are not making that decision. Events such as the Terabit luncheon are designed to help “customers, consultants and the community in general look at what’s happening and start to map out those next steps with them and help them with timing of migration.
“The equipment decisions they are making on their own, but they are also looking for some validation — what is happening in the cabling side that will help them make those next steps or make those choices based on timing, based on economics, based on applications.”

As for the factors that will see Terabit Ethernet likely in use in “hyperscale installations” within three years at least, Hall said a primary one is the “consolidation of the collapsing of the architecture.

“Instead of having multiple layers of electronics for redundancy, you are seeing that architecture flattened. You have higher LAN rates and everything is connected to each other versus having to go through multiple stages.

“You don’t have the luxury of latency so you need faster speeds, flattened architecture and by doing that we are increasing the rates at a faster pace than you saw with the adoption of gig and 10 gig. With 25 Gig coming out it is amazing how fast we are seeing these next steps coming down the pipe where Terabit is a reality. It is not that far out. The steps are changing.” C+